Tag Archives: perseverance

The Race Across The Sky

PST100-2015-2657
“The Race Across the Sky.”  LT100.  Leadville.  Whatever you call it, it is now in the books for 2015.  Less than half of the nearly 650 brave runners from all over the world who started the race managed to power themselves across the finish under the 30 hour time limit.  I was the 281st finisher of the 2015 Leadville Trail 100, earning a finisher’s medal and shiny new buckle on my first attempt.  To be completely honest, I am still amazed by this fact.  There were several points during this race where I just didn’t think that I was a strong enough runner to move fast enough to stay ahead of the cutoffs.  While I never seriously contemplated quitting, I several times resigned myself to the fact that the next aid station would probably be my last before my time ran out.  But first, let’s rewind a few months and lay the groundwork and build the context of this ultra-adventure.

The Lottery

This was the first year that the race had moved to a lottery based entry.  It is not weighted, requires no qualifier, and is purely random – as far as I know.  It was pretty simple, once December rolled around, you would pay your $15.00 and cross your fingers.  In January I received a congratulations email that I had been selected and needed to confirm, which I immediately did.  I was totally geeked up and telling anyone who would listen that my flatlander ass had gained entry to one of the oldest and most well-known 100 mile mountain ultras in the country.  In about 8 months I would be climbing over the Rocky Mountains on foot, digging as deep as I could dig to find that “inexhaustible well of grit, guts, and determination” that founder Ken Chlouber so famously references each year at the pre-race meeting.  Eight months is a long time to focus, train, and plan toward a single goal.  This takes us to training.

Training

I was dedicated to working hard.  I was dedicated to the idea of doing everything in my power to give myself a chance at success.  Hard work was the core strategy of my training plan.  I decided on running faster, higher intensity miles but reducing the total number of miles in a traditional 100 miler plan.   My point was that I had a strong mileage base and knew I could power hike a good long time if need be.  What I needed was the power to be able to make the long, steep climbs Leadville is notorious for without eating up a massive amount of time.  Scattered throughout the months of January, I also ran several races that broke up the cycle, and each forcing me to take a step-back week after a hard effort.  I did 25k, (2) 50K, (2) 6hr timed, 50 mile, 60 mile track, 101K, and 30 miles of pacing on a road race.  Nearly all of these efforts ended up as new PRs for the course or distance.  Two highlights were an 8:40 50 mile finish at Prairie Spirit and a 10th overall sub 5 hour 50K at War Eagle in Arkansas.  One major observation throughout this process:  Staying focused on a single race for 8 months is very challenging.  Breaking the time into sections with step-stone goals (races) was definitely helpful.

Race Week

The last 10 days or before the race were brutal for me.  The steep drop-off of training miles and idle time resulted in me damn near driving myself nuts.  Over-thinking, over-analyzing, and just pure anxiety were the central theme of this time period.  I had trouble focusing on anything not related to the race and sleeping at night got really restless and somewhat frustrating – to be honest – it really sucked.  But, eventually the time passed, the race van was packed, and by 8:30am on Thursday, August 20th 2015 we were on the long desolate road across Western Kansas that would eventually take us to Leadville Colorado.

Road Trip

Candi had taken care of most of the packing and organizing of our gear and aid stuff that we would need for the race.  She did an excellent job at making sure we had everything we would need, without filling all of our bags and the van with a bunch of crap we wouldn’t use.  On top of being a master at logistics, my wife is a total badass who can go for days with almost no sleep and does not know the meaning of the word “quit”.  She can crew and pace with the very best of them – and I am DAMN GLAD she is heading up my Leadville crew. I would definitely need her if I stood a snowballs chance in hell to finish under 30 hours – plus she is really hot!

Ryan showed up well before the scheduled time, and only a few minutes behind “schedule” we hit the road.  Ryan Schwatken is a fairly new ultrarunner, but has already notched several 50K finishes, 101K at FlatRock, and a very gutsy 50 mile effort where he demonstrated a toughness and tenacity that I am not sure that I have seen matched.  Ryan made it to that finish despite nearly EVERYTHING going wrong for him and walking 20 miles on two of the largest blisters I have ever seen.  Ryan has also crewed for me before – taking on the horrendous driving responsibilities at Ozark Trail last fall.  He is a solid addition to any 100 mile pace/crew and a great friend.

After five stops in two hours to drain the excess hydration, our first real stop was Wichita to pick up one of the most undeniably entertaining and inspiring humans I have ever met, Mr. Epic Ultras himself – Eric Steele.  Eric has been running ultras himself for more than 20 years and now puts on the best ultras in the Midwest.  Eric also earned his own Leadville buckle some 15+ years ago.  A fountain of ultrarunning knowledge and motivation, Eric is more importantly my brother-from-another-mother.  We picked up Eric and met with another Wichita ultrarunner, and good friend, Dave Meeth for lunch – who provided us with a bunch of great energy and mojo, wishing us luck and sending us on our way.

The drive out to Colorado was mostly uneventful and consisted of food and pit stops.  You see, I was given the following advice:  “The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to be massively hydrated.”  I followed that advice before a training trip to the mountains in July and it worked perfectly.  The downside is having to stop every 50 miles in order to keep your bladder from bursting.

After a long drive beginning in Southeastern Kansas and finishing up in the haze obscured mountains (courtesy of the California wildfires) of the high country of Colorado, we arrived at The New Summit Inn in Frisco.  We got checked in and relaxed in our room.  Ryan and Eric went on a beer run and watched some local teenager wiggle on the ground outside of the hotel.  This is its own story, but basically they supposed he had too much of the newly legalized recreational “Colorado herbage”.  I slept decently, knowing I still had one more day before the race started and that basically everything I could do was already done.

Pre-Race

Friday would be the first time we drove into Leadville as a team.  We arrived at the packet pickup on Harrison Street and I got my swag bag complete with my #5 bib.  I was also given a wristband with name, d.o.b, and relative medical info.  This band signifies your entry into the race, if you quit or miss a cutoff, they cut it off.  If the band is cut, your race is over.  After getting checked in, we had a couple hours before the pre-race meeting, so of course, we ate.  After breakfast we walked around checking out the town.  Leadville has a really touristy yet throwback kind of feel to it, and the streets were filled up with runners, their crews, and family members.  I remember feeling a really cool vibe as though we were all on the verge of something pretty important.  At Lake County High School gym, completely surrounded by a massive herd of runners and crew, the pre-race briefing had the hairs on my neck standing on end.  The speakers featured Dr. John, the funny medical director, who was giving out great last minute advice in a very funny and most entertaining way, followed by race founder Ken Chlouber who has the ability to motivate a large crowd with just a few words.  According to this old cowboy (and 10+ time Leadville 100 finisher), “You are better than you think you are and can do more than you think you can do.”  At the end of the meeting, I fully believed him.  I took his oath and repeated out loud, “I commit to NOT QUIT.”  After the meeting was over, we drove out to the village of Twin Lakes where I would have aid available at mile 40 and 60.  It is also the final aid station before the round trip over Hope Pass.  After a while driving in the mountains, we ended up back in Frisco eating one of my favorite pre-race meals; KFC.  Finger. Lickin’. Good.  After a short trip to the store to get ice and water and we ended up back at our lodge and began to get my gear ready for the early (more like middle of the night) wake-up call needed to get us to the 4am start line on time.  I had a couple pre-celebratory beers with Eric and Ryan, and Candi helped me get my race clothes ready and my race vest loaded for action – ensuring I didn’t end up at the start line with two left socks, no underwear, and missing a glove.  Did I mention how great she was?

TIME TO RACE!Starting Line

Start to May Queen

The start of the race was pretty chilly (35-40 degrees), but Ryan let me wear his hoodie for the 20 minutes or so we waited around the start line.  At exactly 4:00am, Ken blasted his shotgun signaling the start of the race.  More than 600 unacquainted best friends all sharing a single goal, we effortlessly rolled downhill and out of town eventually getting to Turquoise Lake where the trail became single track.  We were in an extremely long conga-line but somehow I never felt like I was being either pushed or held up.  It was quiet and dark, not much chatter.  The first 2 hours and 22 minutes went by in a flash, and before you know it I had made half a loop around the lake and was at the May Queen aid station 13.5 miles into the race.  I was quickly in and out of May Queen, filling my bottles and grabbing a bit of food.  We had decided in advance that the crew would skip this stop because 1.) I really wouldn’t need anything.  2.) Driving out to this aid station is a pain in the ass on a single road with 600 other crews.  It was the least I could do for my crew considering what they were doing for me.  It was a good decision as I didn’t even stay at the aid station for a full minute.  My plan was well established from the start – I figured I could maintain the required pace, but would not have much extra time to screw around at aid stops – I kept telling myself to plan ahead, get what you need, and move your ass on down the trail.

May Queen to Outward Bound

The first good climb is in this section on a bit of gnarly single track that takes you up to some dirt roads to get to the top of Sugarloaf.  I mixed in some good powerhiking here at the steeper spots and ran what I could without sending my heart into an explosive range.  Got rained on a bit as a little thunder shower rolled through.  It was mostly overcast and but the sprinkle did seem to knock out the smoky haze somewhat.  Eventually I crested the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and got to bomb down the section known as Powerline.  Powerline is exactly what it sounds like, a trail/jeep/maintenance access road that runs under the power lines.  No switchbacks, it can be very, very steep at times.  I was trying to hold myself back so I didn’t trash my quads, but found it very difficult to run slow.  It was a lot of fun blasting down the side of the mountain!  At the base was a couple miles of road that led past the Fish Hatchery (previous site of this aid station) to the Outward Bound aid station.  This was basically set up off the road in a pasture.  Candi, Eric and Ryan were here standing by the timing chute ready to crew me for the first time of the day.  They took my trash, filled my bottles, and restocked my vest.  This was roughly 24 miles into the race, and I still was not in need of much, so I was in and out of OB very quickly and headed on toward Halfpipe.  Knowing the first 40 miles of the race are the “easiest”, I wanted to make the most of them, without pushing too hard.  That is a difficult balance to find, but I was for the most part sticking with my plan.

OB to Half Pipe

This section kind of sucked.  Leaving OB was a section of mowed grass leading across the pasture, followed by a section of pavement, finally followed by a forest road before getting to Half Pipe.  It was pretty hot and dusty and I was firmly in my first rough patch, but managed to eat and drink my way through it.  Along this section there was an alternate crew access point and I got to see my people for a couple minutes, which I did not expect.  They filled me up, but more importantly they perked me up, which I was definitely needing at that point. Arriving in Half Pipe at the 50K mark in just a couple minutes under 6 hours, I was still right at my goal time.  I am not really sure what the hell Half Pipe is, but it was a pretty cool aid station, just not crew accessible – so needless to say, I didn’t lounge around here very long.  I grabbed a handful of GU’s, my primary fuel source, and hit the dusty trail.

Half Pipe to Twin Lakes

Once you leave Half Pipe it is a pretty steady climb for about 5 miles.  Nothing real steep, just kind of always going up, and it is mostly not-really-that-technical single track.  I got into a pretty good groove here, but was a little slower than I felt, I am guessing it was due to the steady uphill.  It is 8.5 miles to TL but seems like at least 15.  There was a small outpost on Mt. Elbert sponsored by CamelBak where they had fluids, but otherwise there is not much to break up this chunk.  I was ok mentally but was a bit sleepy and kind of slow, which led to me getting to Twin Lakes at noon, about 20 minutes behind my goal time, but well within the cutoff.  This aid station was freaking huge!  I am telling you it was like a circus of people and shelters about a half mile long.  The aid station was in an old fire station, or at least the bays where you park firetrucks.  I found my crew, and they took expert care of me, getting some different foods in me.  I think I managed to eat a banana and some mixed fruit along with some watermelon and sandwich quarters.  It definitely felt like lunchtime, and I hit the aid table like an all you can eat buffet.

Twin Lakes to Winfield

Twin Lakes is the last stop before going up and over Hope Pass.  In a span of about 5 miles, runners ascend from 9200’ to 12,600’ above sea level on rocky, single track trails.  To make it even more fun, leading up to the climb, adventurous runners get to wade through knee deep water for about ½ of a mile after leaving the aid station to get to the base of the mountain.  Once you get just above the tree line is the Hopeless aid station.  This crazy group of volunteers pack all supplies up on llamas.  Yes, llamas.  They are an awesome bunch and made the best potato soup on the course.  I fought like hell to get up the mountain – getting passed by a lot of folks who were either a.) Much better climbers than me. b.) Much better at high altitude than me. 3.) BOTH.  Whatever the case, I just kept hammering away at the mountain, hiking 50-100 yards and leaning on a tree or sitting on a rock for 6 deep breaths.  I was really struggling to keep my heartrate below about 5900 bpm.  Eventually I made it to the Hopeless aid station, albeit much slower than I would have liked.  I ate some soup and sandwiches, filled my bottles and sat for 3 minutes (I timed it).  One would assume that since you made it to the aid station, it would be time to head on down the back side…. Nope…  There are probably another 500 or so feet to climb before reaching the summit on some very steep switchbacks.  Once cresting Hope Pass, I got to stare in awe for miles in both directions before beginning the steep ascent that would take me to Winfield and the half way point of this very tough race.  The back side of Hope Pass is super steep, and I fell on my ass more than once. It was steep enough that I was not doing too much running, feeling like I would end up rolling off the side of the mountain and die should I catch my toe.  At the base of the back side, the course turns and heads to the aid station that marks the turn around, and I thought it was much closer than it actually was.  This section of the race was easily the most painful, depressing, and not very much fun part of the entire adventure.  I came hauling my out-of-water-not-eating-anything-ass into Winfield at just before 4:45pm.  The cutoff here was “gone by 6 pm”, and to be honest, I did not know if I would be ready to leave in time.  I had planned on being here by 3:45 but took an ass-whoopin’ climbing up and down Hope.  Ken Chlouber had quoted Mike Tyson at the pre-race meeting, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”  That had proved so true, and my jaw hurt like hell from the uppercut that the mountain gave me.  Coming up the road I was greeting by my wonderful wife who had had been pacing nervously, waiting for me to arrive.  I handed her my bottles and said, “Fix me.”  She asked what was wrong, but honestly I was pretty loopy and said I wasn’t sure.  Our plan had been made in advance, that WHEN I began to struggle, they were to force-feed me, take no excuses and kick my ass down the trail.  Ryan and Candi were giving me food to eat (not options) while Eric was getting ready to pace.  I asked for my knee braces because it hurt to run down – not a good sign when you are HALF way through a 100 mile mountain race.  I also took an Aleve and drained a bottle of Sustained Energy (THANK YOU HAMMER NUTRITION).  After 15 minutes and what felt like an eternity, they helped me get up of the ground and start walking me out of the aid station.  This is where I could say that my crew saved my race, but it would actually be more accurate to say that this is where they STARTED saving my race – details to follow.

Winfield to Twin Lakes

I have now passed half way, and seen the entire Leadville Trail 100 course.  I have Eric Steele pacing me for at least the next 10.5 miles back to Twin Lakes, with only 2 things standing in our way.  The first is a big-ass mountain and the second is a 9:45pm cutoff.  We left Winfield at exactly 5:01pm and the way I was feeling I might not make it back up Hope Pass before 9:45pm!  As I had experienced in other ultras, I began to feel much better very quickly after taking in food and fluids.  A combination of having someone like Eric to leech energy off of and the food I had ingested breathed new life back into me.  After a while we passed people still headed to the turn and it hit me that they would not be making the return trip.  They would be timed out at Winfield and their LT100 dreams would be over for the day.  While I felt bad for them, it also lit a fire under me that I still had a chance and that I needed to push hard if I really wanted that belt buckle.  Digging deep is a central theme of Leadville, and that is exactly what I did.  I dug as deep as I ever had and propelled myself back up the steep side of Hope Pass.  The front is steep, but the back side is a fucking wall.  With the help of Eric’s expert singing and hilarious dirty limericks echoing on the mountain, we made it back to the top of Hope Pass, passing several runners on the climb.  At this point I was feeling GREAT, literally and figuratively on top of the world!  We stopped for a bite at Hopeless before jetting on down the mountain.  Everything was going perfectly, and I was making good time as the sun went down.  Once getting back under the tree line, it started getting dark very quickly.  Eric and I bantering back and forth, tired legs, and dim trails led to a couple of falls fairly close to the bottom.  Both times I rolled my left ankle just a bit, but both times it burned for a minute but was OK.  We crossed the meadow and eventually made it back to the water crossing which at mile 60 felt pretty damn good to me.  Upon arrival back at the Twin Lakes aid station the crew was excited and glad to see me feeling so much better.  I was in at about 9:00pm, 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  I thanked Ryan and Candi for saving me at Winfield and started eating.  And eating.  I also lubed up my feet and put on fresh socks and shoes.  Amazingly, a fresh pair of socks and shoes can really give you a nice boost.  Ryan was all set to pace, and after maybe 8 minutes I was headed toward Half Pipe and the 69 mile point – by way of a long climb up Mt. Elbert.

Twin Lakes to Half Pipe

There is not too much to say about this section aside from the fact that right after round tripping Hope Pass, you have about a 3 mile section of single track that gains about 1400 feet.  To put this in perspective, that is only about 100 feet less than the Powerline climb at mile 80.  Not sure why this section does not get more attention, but it is pretty rough.  I had been warned by a number of people to be ready for it, and I was.  The plan was to hike it as hard as we could and the try and make up some time on the 5.5 mile descent into Half Pipe.  We stuck with the plan, and Ryan pushed me whenever he could, and always kept me eating on schedule, the method Eric had started on his section.  This worked great, and my energy never lagged too much.  We leapfrogged the same 12-20 people for the entire section into Half Pipe, and saw one guy puke at least 10 times.  I just kept thinking, “I am tired, but I freaking glad I am not THAT GUY.”  I was really slowing down at this point, but we still managed to gain back a few minutes and got farther ahead of the 1:15am cutoff.  We got to Half Pipe and almost exactly midnight and I sat for a minute while Ryan got me broth and filled my bottles.  I knew it was another 6.5 miles to get back to Outward Bound, which means it was almost time to climb the dreaded Powerline.  It also meant that Candi would be pacing me soon, which is always a huge boost for me.

Half Pipe to Outward Boundbazu-6817858

This section was weird.  The road was smooth, dusty and gray.  I felt like we were running on the moon, although my legs did not agree that it was moon gravity.  Ryan eventually pulled out a handheld flashlight and it was super bright and helped a great deal to give depth to the world.  I was in a hazy , dreamlike state and just kept shuffling along at this point – eating when Ryan said eat, shuffling when he said run.  It seemed like no time before we covered 3 miles and returned to the alternate crew access point, which was good, because I was getting very sick of GU gels and was having a bit of trouble swallowing them.  Candi and Eric mixed me up a bottle of Sustained Energy, and it was a great boost.  We got in and out and made good time toward the OB aid station.  A couple miles before the aid station we got to the open area out of the wooded mountain and it got cold.  To me it felt as it the temperature had dropped 25 degrees.  I was shivering and only had a light jacket on, and zipping it up only helped a little.  Thankfully, Ryan had his rain jacket stowed on his pack and let me wear it.  Chances are that I would have been battling hypothermia had he not had it.  So once again, the crew just kept on saving my race.  We got to OB a full hour before the cut-off at almost exactly 2am.  Candi was on deck and ready to run!  I sat and gathered myself for a minute and they briefed me on time, cutoff, and what I would need to do to get my buckle.  It seemed impossible that I could go another 20 miles as tired as I was feeling, but I had long ago decided that it didn’t matter what the “outlook” was- I was just going to keep going until I either crossed the finish line or they told me I missed the cutoff and I was pulled.

Outward Bound to May Queen

Leaving OB at 2am means I would have 4 hours and 30 minutes to get up and over Powerline and back to May Queen, a section about 11 miles long.  Aside from tEPIC Finishhe steep-as-shit climb up Powerline (with 80 mountain miles on your body), there is also a section of really technical single track just waiting to twist your ankles and pop your knees for you.  Also, if you get to May Queen at the 6:30am cutoff, that only leaves you 3:30 to cover the last half marathon which is either single track or going uphill at a fairly steep slope.  3:30 sounds like a lot to do a half marathon, but trust me, at the end of a Leadville, it sounds like a sprint.  Candi prodded me out of the aid station and it was up the road until we got back to the Powerline trail.  I took the advice of a few Leadville veterans and just kept grinding.  Don’t look up to the top – just focus on the next 50 feet – then do it again.  Candi did a mixture of cheering me on and challenging me to push harder.  She is as good a pacer as she is wife, and I am sure glad she is mine.  We grinded away at the climb and I rested when my heartrate got too high.  Eventually, after the 200 or so false summits, we made it!  At the top was an oasis we were not expecting – a party on the mountain masquerading as an aid station.  While I am pretty sure this is not an officially sanctioned stop, I was glad it was there.  Folks were partying their asses off and I only wish I felt good enough to sample the libations.  We burned down the back side of Sugarloaf at a nice interval shuffle and eventually got back to the single track.  It was slow going, but eventually we made it back to the road into May Queen shortly before 6am.

May Queen to Finish

Coming into MQ, the crew was there to meet us and take care of us as they had done all day and night.  Eric and Ryan filled my bottles while I used the porta-John.  I felt like time was running out and was somewhat in panic mode, even though I had 4 hours to cover the last 13.5 miles.  I knew I had slowed down a lot and desperately did not want to be coming up 6th street as time expired.  Candi gave me a Red Bull and told me when it was gone, we were running until we got back off the road and onto the trail.  As we took off, a guy said, “Great job, but you need to RUN some around the lake, you need the time!”  It was strange how hearing it from someone else can light a fire, and it did.  We took off and actually knocked down a 12 minute mile in the first time since very early in the race.  Candi told me to just take what the trail gives, and that is exactly what we did.  We were able to run most of the way back around Turquoise Lake at about 15 minute mile pace, pretty good for 90 some miles into a race, over rolling single track.  We got a surprise from Eric and Ryan at Tabor boat ramp, they had stopped just to cheer us on and ask if we needed anything, but we just took a hug and rolled on.  After we finally came up off the trail and onto the road,Buckle it feels like you should be done… but you are NOT.  I was also warned about this, and just kept telling myself that we are close, but not there yet.  Time wise we were in pretty good shape and I realized in my mind I could walk the entire rest of the race and get the finish, but still had this strange feeling that something bad could still happen.  We jogged/walked intervals off and on and I marveled at how damn steep these hills were while getting ever closer to town.  We finally came off the last long dirt road hill and got back onto the pavement that would become 6th street and lead us to the finish line.  In the last mile, Eric and Ryan joined Candi and I as we marched proudly toward the red carpet and ultimately the finish line.   As we looked up the hill and saw runners and their families crossing the finish, it hit me for the first time that I was actually going to do this.  With the help of my wife and best friends, we were going to make my Leadville dream a reality.  We joined hands in unity, raised them in the air, and crossed the finish line together with about 30 minutes to spare.  After a round of hugs for my team, Marilee hung the medal around my neck and Ken gave me a big sweaty hug.  Needless to say it was a long, difficult adventure and that moment crossing the finish line is most definitely one that I will never forget.

 

Until next time… BE EPIC!

Zach

Setting the Pace

PST100-2015-2657I was recently asked, “Zach – your crewing article was great, but I am not really wanting to sit on my butt for hours just to pop blisters, make sandwiches and fill water bottles…  what about pacing?”   Well, “fictitious friend”, that is a great question!  However, for the purposes of disclosure, let me start with a disclaimer.  I have never actually paced another runner during an event.  This being said – I have utilized pacers in a wide variety of race distances and terrains during ultras.  I have also not utilized pacers – so I feel confident I can speak with authority on the subject matter.

First and foremost – and I cannot stress this enough – make sure that you are FAST ENOUGH to keep up with your pacer.  I personally have had to leave a pacer behind that could not keep up with me and ended up leaving said pacer alone in the dark in the middle of the night.  While I felt bad for her, I was feeling amazing, and was going to take advantage of that.  Another friend’s pacer decided to quit during his “shift” and did not run again for a year.  To avoid this situation, don’t agree to pace someone that you are likely unable to match speeds (and preferably push).  Also, be careful to assume that just because it’s the late miles of a 100 you will be able to keep up with a normally much faster runner – I have seen some ultrarunners run faster the last 10 than the first 10.

Secondly, don’t whine and complain about how bad YOU feel.  Chances are you have been out there much less time than your runner has, and the goal is to help THEM.  Your pissing and moaning might make them run faster to get away from you, but most likely they will just get very annoyed and take it out on the crew at the next aid station.  Best case scenario, your runner might just put in her earbuds and crank the Metallica – take the hint.

#Zandi - Shay featuring Johnny and the Daves
2014 Honey Badger “Van Clan”

Next order of business; be prepared.  I am talking “Eagle Scout” prepared!  Learn and study the course! Know the distance between aid stations.  Just like Dad driving to the family vacation destination, you can expect to hear “Are we there yet?”  Know your runners goals and push hard to exceed them!  Find out what you can do to help your runner and the crew when you roll into the next aid station.  Don’t forget to remind them to eat and drink, then take a mental note of when and how much.  It is important you do not let them get behind; else you are making things harder on the both of you.

Finally, and this is sometimes overlooked, HAVE FUN!  One of the best things you can do is help your runner keep their mind OFF the pain, the race, and the other hardships.  Crack jokes, sing songs, tell stories.  ENGAGE your runner to help pass the long arduous hours and distract them from the task at hand for a bit.  Some of my best pacer experiences were not because my pacer kept pushing Heed and Hammer Gels, but telling dirty jokes and sharing (and sometimes OVERSHARING) personal stories.  It really makes the low times much more bearable.

I could give you a thousand more tips on how to be an effective pacer, but if you follow the four simple rules above, you will be successful.  If you are interested in being a pacer but have not been asked, PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE!  Post availability on forums or Facebook pages!  It is a great way to see part of a course or race without ponying up the entry fee!  You may also make some great friends.  Last summer, I assembled a team of 4 complete strangers who spent more than 27 hours in the scorching Kansas heat for a guy and his gal that they barely knew – and now they are now my lifelong friends!

Until Next Time…. #BeEpic!

Zach Adams

FlatRock Twenty

DSC_9349_s_jpgThis year’s event has rendered me nearly speechless.   Please take note of two specific words in the sentence you just read, with the first being nearly.  I am fairly certain that the only thing that would render me truly speechless would be a dismembered tongue or a traumatic brain injury.  The second word of particular importance is event.  I did not call the 20th annual FlatRock 50/25K’s a race.  It’s not just a race.  It is a full blown family trail running extravaganza for any and all who attend. The race may be the draw and one of the main events, but it is only one piece of an overall experience that truly is much greater than the sum of its parts.   What makes this place so special?  Everything!  After 20 years everything surrounding the FlatRock event has become so intertwined that it has taken on a life of its own.  FlatRock has its own culture, history, mythology, following, traditions, personality, and attitude that is usually only a found in a living and breathing organism! I love it.  No, I love the SHIT out of it!

First, I want to start with a “first” for me at this race.  This was the first ultra that a couple of my kids were able to come and be involved from start to finish.  We all attended the pre-race festivities, camped out with friends, they sent me off with cheers at the start, and they were there when I crossed the finish line!  Slapping the hand and crossing the finish line with my youngest son Mitch while my daughter Molly and Candi’s kids Ranie and Durbie were cheering us in was indescribable and unforgettable.  Unfortunately, my oldest son Max was unable to attend due to his job and school responsibilities – but I imagine he will get more than his fill when he helps crew for Candi and me at the Ozark Trail 100 miler in November!  We all hung out Saturday night to enjoy the traditional post-race bonfire, lots of food and beers, and to swap war stories from the trail.  It was amazing.

As far as the race itself went, I had a stellar day.  The temps were cool at the start and I was more than sufficiently trained and acclimated for the warmer afternoon temperatures thanks to lots of hot miles training for the Honey Badger 100 in July. My fueling and hydration plan was simple – a Hammer gel every 30 minutes on the dot and a supplemental at each aid station.   For water, it was one handheld bottle filled at each aid station.   My race plan was simple; run to the point of discomfort all the way to the finish.  Not hard enough that I would most likely spectacularly crash and fail due to my efforts, but hard enough that it was still a real possibility.  After all, if you don’t fail to hit your goals from time to time you aren’t setting your sights high enough.  I ran with my beautiful girlfriend Candi Paulin and the bandana clad, tattooed Justin Chockley for about 8 miles before pulling away and running solo basically the entire rest of the race.  I pushed hard and made it to the turnaround in about 2:40 passing enough people to go from approximately 20th place when we entered the trail to about 10th place leaving the turn around.  The three falls I took outbound left me with a few scratches and a nice charlie-horse in my left quadricep, but no turned ankles or twisted knees – which is definitely worse, and always a concern when battling “The Rock”.  I passed a few more runners and kept pushing just to the point that I felt like I probably wouldn’t be able to keep it up until the end.  At Dana’s aid station inbound I came upon one Johnny Webb – who crewed and paced for me at Honey Badger.  Remember his name folks, as he will be a guy taking home winners bling once he gains some experience and learns how to train – I am calling that right now.  Johnny had gone out like a bolt of lightning challenging several seriously badass and MUCH MORE EXPERIENCED dudes– in his first official ultra – including eventual sub-5 hour winner Nathan Sicher. Adam Dearing, Aaron Norman, and Ron Micah LaPointe are a group of guys who have WON this race (or the 101K) before and I think 3 of 24 people who have EVER finished the 50k in fewer than 5 hours.  My point is this; 2014 FlatRock was loaded with speedy guys ready to RACE, and Johnny decided to take them on.   Unfortunately, after about 20 fast miles, he told me he had to throw in the towel due to some IT band issues.  After a short, profanity laden pep talk, I convinced Johnny to finish even if he had to walk the remaining 9 miles.  After he promised me that he wouldn’t quit I popped my gel and hit the trail.  At this point I was getting run down by Jeanne Bennett of Tulsa.  We battled all the way to aid station #2 where after a brief chat with Harrison Steele and his video camera, I got around her again.  Another crash in the rocks had my adrenaline pumping and my heart jumping so I backed off and “let” (yeah right!) her pass.  A couple short minutes later, she was out of sight!  When I came pumping in to Max and David’s aid station they told me she was only 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me. I still felt good and decided to try and catch her rather than partake in my traditional shot of whisky with these two awesome knuckleheads.  Blasting out of the final aid station, I fixed my eyes on the trail and told myself that it was faster to fall and get up than run slow and cautiously.  I had already passed some guys that I know can run very strong ALL the way to the end and I did not want to get passed, even if I couldn’t catch Jeanne.  Shortly before I came down off the final steep descent leading to the highway, I heard air horns and plenty of cheering – I decided that I had probably been “chicked” again this year by Jeanne Bennett just like I was last year by Mindy Coolman.  Little did I know, that not only was I “chicked” again, but for the second year in a row, the female that passed me in the last quarter of the race set a new female course record!  Make no mistake; the women that come out to FlatRock are just as badass as (if not more) than any of the guys!  Congrats Jeanne Bennett on an awesome race and new CR!  I figured I would try to add to the time I cut off battling the ladies champ by hauling my ass down the pavement to the finish line as fast as I could.  I turned into the finish area and trucked down the gravel until Mitch jumped in with me and we crossed the finish together, cheesing for the camera the whole time!  Officially, my time was 5:52:28 – roughly an 11 minute FlatRock PR over last year.  As always Eric, Polly, Warren and the rest of the Epic Bridage pulled off a perfectly executed event.  The food and fun were off the charts.   Grooming on the trail was the best I have ever seen it – barely a single eye-poker to be seen.  These folks can definitely deliver on Epic Ultras mission of “co-creating experiences of a lifetime”.  This is not corporate bullshit, but a sincere desire to help make a memory that will last a lifetime – for everyone involved.  No one does it better.  Best race direction in the state of Kansas and very likely the entire Midwest!   I can really look at this race and feel like I used all of my ultrarunning tools, experience, experience on this trail, and training as efficiently as I could have.  No recollections of miles where I felt, looking back, that I should have done more.  For that, I am really happy how my race on “The Rock” went on September 27th 2014. Of course, I feel like there are ALWAYS ways I can improve, but at this race, on this day, I did the best I could.  That is a wonderful feeling.

There are so many inspiring stories out there that I wish I could tell them all.  One that I NEED to share is my friend from Arkansas, Dave Renfro, who changed down to the 25k before race day– just to be SURE that chemotherapy wouldn’t cost him a finish due to not meeting cutoff times.  He never once considered not finishing – just not finishing in time.  Outstanding and inspiring!  I also want to say great job to my co-workers who finished the 50k this year – Jerime Carpenter, Daniel Droessler, Gene Dixon, and former co-worker Ryan Schwatken.  Great job guys!  It was been really cool watching you guys get where you are.  Jerime’s second FlatRock and a 1.5 hour PR, Gene’s first FlatRock finish, and Ryan with a nearly 2 hour PR – and especially Dan who JUST STARTED running in January of THIS year and had never run longer than 16 miles before last Saturday and finished sub-9!  Gutsy my friend!  Another quick but very important side story – this was a reunion of sorts for the “Van Clan” that you might have read about in my Honey Badger blog post.  It was great watching Dave Meeth kick some serious ass,  Johnny Webb suffer and persevere to the finish, while being taken care of once again by recent  (first time) 3rd place Mark Twain 100 mile finisher and all around stud Dave Box. Don’t forget about the wonderful laughs and margaritas provided by our favorite hobbit Shay Caffey – who was only NOT racing because she just finished HER first 100 miler at Hawk a couple weeks ago.  So many friends finished this race that I might as well just word it like this:  Congrats to my friends <insert link to official race results here>!  Congrats especially to my “Epic Family” Reina, Joell, Cory, Sean, and “Chocko” who turned the last half of the race into a pub crawl, hosing back 6 PBR “tall boys” and a shot or two of Crown Royal on the way to the finish.  Chocko may or may not have drank enough the night before to intoxicate a couple of Irishmen.  Chock definitely sets the bar high in a work hard / play hard life – that’s one reason why we are bros!  At least Chocko wasn’t in the a quarter mile from the starting line in the shitter when the race started like my new badass bearded buddy Shawn Walters!  Sorry if I left anybody out.  I really think the world of you all.

Next order of business:  Awards.  This was the second year for the Triple Crown, and this year, and I earned mine.  A golden chalice that represents the successful efforts of finishing all three annual events held on FlatRock.  The Crown was not in the cards for me last year as I was unable to attend WinterRock – so technically I was only 12K away.  This was not the case in 2014 when myself, Candi Paulin, Josh Watson, Carson Galloway, Joseph Galloway, Robert McPherson, Marcus Needham and Mike Rives all took on WinterRock, FlatRock 101k, and FlatRock 50K.  If you think this is an easy task, well, I challenge you to try it yourself next year.  And by the way, Candi – who just so happens to be the love of my life – is the ONLY person who earned the FlatRock Triple Crown for the 2nd year in a row.  Yeah, she is a total rock star!

FlatRock 20 was special in another way, as there was a knighting ceremony rewarding a runner who had amassed 10 CONSECUTIVE 50K finishes on FlatRock.  Prior to this race only nine people had been knighted into the FlatRock “Hall of Pain” earning a retired bib number, cloth bib, and free lifetime entry into the race.  This year marked Scott Hill’s 10th trip across the rock and he was knighted for his efforts – complete with paper crown, an EPIC oath, and a broadsword christening his shoulders.  It was a totally unique and amazing sight to behold.  Congrats Scott!

Last, but CERTAINLY NOT least, Mr. FlatRock himself – Dennis Haig- was awarded a wonderful plaque for completing his 20th FlatRock 50k race.  That’s correct!  Dennis has run the 50K at FlatRock EVERY SINGLE YEAR IT HAS EXISTED.  Simply amazing, Dennis is a true representation of the rugged toughness and tenacity that characterizes FlatRock.

And finally, I want to thank everyone who stuck around to the very end and helped me ice the cake with by descending to one knee and asking Candi to be my bride.  It was one of the most exciting things I have ever been involved in at an ultra, and I am pretty sure by her expression and the unintelligible garbled response that the answer was yes!  To understand the full emotion of the moment, go to www.epicultraphotos.com and check Mile 90’s beautiful pictures of the special moment we shared with our trail running extended family.  I feel pretty fortunate that Epic Ultras covered the cost of professional engagement photos – thanks for the added bonus Eric!  You ALWAYS get your money’s worth and more at FlatRock.

Every year after FlatRock I find myself asking the question, “What could possibly happen next year to make this any MORE EPIC?”  Of course I now fully believe that no matter what it is, SOMETHING will make FlatRock  an even crazier and more epic event next year.  A finish line wedding perhaps?

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

2014 Honey Badger 100 Mile Ultra Road Race – ‘WE’ Found the ‘US’ in ‘TEAM’!

zachWriting a race report for a 100 miler is always hard for me.  It is difficult NOT to go into a painfully detailed play-by-play account of the whats, whens, wheres and hows of the specifics of the race; fueling, hydration, pace, etc.  Unfortunately that leads to a reading experience that has as much monotony, boredom, and suffering as an actual 100 mile race.  With the primary goal of my race reports being to entertain an audience of those interested in ultrarunning, I will do my best not to drive you to a suicide attempt using your keyboard or smartphone.   After all, I was the one who signed up to suffer – you just want to chuckle about it and assure yourself that you did the right thing by NOT signing up for this suckfest.  Instead of boring details like, “then I swallowed another Enduroltye” or “my pace for the next 2 miles fell off by 14 seconds”, I am committed to attempting to convey the unpredictable and rapidly changing feelings and raw emotions that inevitably ebb and flow over the course of a nearly 30 hour race.  Wish me luck.

After packing the van and trailer with the equivalent of two Walmart Supercenters and enough ice to build a replica of Superman’s “fortress of solitude”, Candi, Johnny and I finally arrived at Cheney State Park Friday afternoon ready to descend on the Epic Ultras pre-race meal like a swarm of locusts.  These meals have morphed into an occasion that could be described as a, “family reunion where people genuinely like each other”.  I hesitate to call it a family reunion since there was no keg and the cops only stopped by to say hi.  Warren grilled us up some awesome chicken, burgers, and brats while Eric, Polly and the rest of the Epic Ultras Brigade were working hard to not only feed us, but get ready for the race in the morning.  After eating more than our share, we milled around talking with our ultra-family.  Our crew, that would come to be known as “The Van Clan” began to show up as we organized gear and went over plans for the morning.  “Johnny and the Daves”, Mr. Webb, Mr. Meeth, and Mr. Box would be our crew, and their main goal was to keep us alive, moving, and relatively happy during the heat of the day.  Shay, total badass and future female action movie star, would figure out a way to meet the crew some point in the evening – after of course- she ran a hot ass 50k at the Psummer Psycho Wyco in KC.  Once all the work was done and we finally started to relax, I realized that the butterflies were having a metal concert in my guts, and from the feel of it, the show was rockin’ pretty damn hard.  Candi mentioned having some nervous energy a couple times although she is about as stone-cold cool under pressure as anyone I have ever met in my life.  A comfortably mild July evening lured us into our tent away from the mosquitoes, where we spent the next six hours or so not really sleeping.

After vehicle check, lots of nether region lube, and couple of hot breakfast burritos (Thanks Dave M!) we were off like a herd of turtles chasing an earthworm.  Candi and I took advantage of the opportunity to run with other humans for the little out and back around the perimeter of the lake, knowing soon enough that it would be just her and I – just like most of our training runs.  The nerves subsided and our bodies settled into that familiar rhythm of left, right, repeat that they are all too familiar with.  We met back up with our crew as we passed near the starting line to head out for the big 93 mile loop and gave them the standing order to head out three miles in front of us until further notice.  Our plan was not to run a 100 mile race, but more like 33 individual 5k’s.  After all, running 100 miles on asphalt in the summer just sounds dumb! Running some 5K’s is psychologically much more manageable.  Running a hundo is just like eating an elephant; you can’t swallow it whole, but you can eat it all eventually if you are patient and do it one bite at a time.

Feeling great, we chugged along the first stretch of the race, a 30 something mile straight shot littered with the occasional hill that enabled about three miles line of sight.  It could get somewhat frustrating to see your crew setting up while you were still 25 minutes away!  Candi and I chatted and ran in three mile chunks, taking our time and not rushing as we ate, drank, and doctored our bodies.  While we wanted to turn in a respectable time, out primary mission was to NOT totally thrash our bodies doing so.  This race in summer is no PR course, and since only 14 people started, we figured finishing put us in the top twenty.  Good enough!  Sticking to our plan, we fell into a comfortable rhythm and our rookie crew almost immediately started to mesh and gel into what would quickly come to resemble a highly tuned, well-organized, and perfectly efficient TEAM rivaling the best that NASCAR has to offer.  The blazing July sun was hot and radiating off the blacktop but as we headed to the west we still had a pleasant cross breeze helping to keep us cool.  We knew it would get rougher once we made the turn to the south near mile 40, but we may have underestimated JUST what it would be like to be running straight into the bowels of hell while Satan hit us with some supernatural hair dryer.  Cue the suck.

The following 15 or so miles were not very much fun.  For starters, after making our turn, Johnny and the Daves were unable to park at the 3 mile mark due to no cross street, so Candi and I had to do a 4-4.5 mile stretch before getting back to them.  While this sounds like it should be no big deal, it really was.  Not only had we turned into the 20+ mph wind, but the day was getting over the 95 degree mark and we were only carrying a single handheld each.  The wind would dry you out within about a mile and while one bottle was just about the perfect amount for 3 miles, it was grossly inadequate for 4 or more.  So we suffered.  We took our time to cool off and recover once we finally reached them and then did 5ks until we got to Cunningham, a little town where we would cross under Hwy 54.  At this point we decided that 3 miles was just too far between cool offs and had the crew start stopping every 2 miles.  Despite costing us some race time, I feel like this was the single best decision we made through the entire course of the race.  Sacrificing some clock time to stay cooler longer became a strategy we deployed until the sun came down.  Each stop we would take off our hats and shirts and soak them in ice water before putting them back on.  At one point I said something about “investing some time in the afternoon heat that would earn us some dividends we could cash out once it cooled off.”  Thanks to the efforts of our fantastic crew and in spite of a daytime high of 98 degrees, we survived – mostly undamaged – and got to the checkpoint at 53 miles in St. Leo.  The massive, shady oak tree at St. Leo and the promise of no wind in our face was our prize and we absolutely reveled in it, sharing some laughs with Warren and some others while eating, drinking pickle juice shooters, and doctoring our increasingly tattered bodies.

From this point, we were allowed to take on pacers, and we had our own Johnny on the spot.  No, not a shitter (which would have been nice), but a shaggy headed young man about to be violently born into the world of ultrarunning.  Johnny is “the kid” on our crew, and hails from my hometown.  Twenty-three years old, he is a baby by ultrarunning standards.  His previous running experience consists of high school track ( I heard he once ate shit on a hurdle but still got up and ran his heart out instead of walking off), getting a hair up ass and running the Richmond Marathon without training  (in ~3:30:00), and through-hiking more than 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  And while Johnny has a fiery spirit that matches  his shaggy ginger head, he has zero experience past about the 30 mile a day mark.   So naturally, he wanted to go the distance – almost 50 miles.  Why not?  Now armed with a fresh set of legs and a new conversation partner, my love and I continued along the never-ending pavement of Kingman County, Kansas, determined to slay ourselves a Honey Badger.

We continued to do our thing – drink, eat, run, drink, rest, and repeat.  The sun lowered to the point that we finally felt relief from the day’s heat, and it was MARVELOUS – but somewhat deceiving.  The humidity was still high and it was still very warm, so we took great care and made a conscious effort to continue our intake of fluids – including a drink we named “Pink Shit”.  Pink Shit was a mix of different flavors of Dollar General Pedialyte and Gatorade knockoffs, and not too bad when served cold.  I continued to eat as I had all day, in large quantities, prompting Boxy to voice his opinion that eventually I would eat EVERYTHING and he would have to raid a cornfield.  Candi babied her stomach along trying desperately to avoid nausea issues that plagued her in her last few long ultras.  I can only imagine the torture of wanting nothing more than to puke for 40 miles.  Luckily I am armed with an iron set of guts coated with Teflon and wrapped in Kevlar – the longest period of barfy-pukey I ever endured was about 30 minutes in any race (and it was torturous).  Anyway, without getting any further bogged down in details, we made like Forrest Gump and “just. kept. running.”, eventually donning our headlamps and stumbling along under the blinking red lights of the wind farm and the super moon.

Approximately 10:30 pm and around 60 miles in, a new character joins our fearless expedition as we quest ever closer to the final showdown with the villainous and notoriously tough Honey Badger. Shaylene “Lara Croft” Caffey, who earlier in the day thrashed her 50k PR on a difficult Wyco course, traveled hours from Kansas City finally hitching a ride out and meeting up with the Daves.  This young lady is on record saying that she is planning on running the FlatRock 101K course in Vibram 5-fingers next spring.  Yeah, we ONLY accept level 99 badasses on our crew.  Shay is also planning on shooting down the Hawk 100 (her first) in September; I think she was maybe even subconsciously looking to get some more insights into the “late miles” of a hundie.  Candi and I planned on showing her precisely how to climb into her pain cave and then slam the door shut on her own personal hurt locker.  Shay, however, was determined to take crewing to the same level of her running and attempt to keep us from suffering at all.  It was a battle of wills that would play out all night and into the next morning. Once Shay joins the crew, it breathes some new life into all of us.  Dave and Dave had been crewing at a very high level non-stop since sunrise, Johnny was crewing and running in beast mode, and the beautifully hardcore Candi and I plodding along on the road with seemingly no end.  I don’t know where she mustered it from, but Shay’s rootin’, tootin’, hootin’, and a hollerin’ woke us all up.  Precisely when we all needed it.  Dave Meeth, or as I internally began to think of him – “The Professor” –  changed roles and pinned on a pacer’s bib, while  Dave Box shined in his role as Master Driver and Crew Chief.

Meeth is an engineer by trade and was the first person I recruited to join the crew.  I had met him at FlatRock, chatted with him online, and he even came out and brought me a beer at the 12 hour KUS race I ran last November.  He is also an ultrarunner having run a 50 miler to his credit – much faster my best time.  Additionally, I could really just see and feel his intelligence and compassion for others even beyond his passion, energy, and excitement for the sport of ultrarunning.  I knew he would make an excellent crew member.  For these reasons (and not just because he is the elder of the group) the nickname “professor” just kept popping in my head.  Regardless, I knew Candi and I would be in good hands with Dave for the next 35 or so miles.

Believe it or not, the later miles of a 100 kind of just gets boring.  I know?  Amazing revelation right?!  Not much else to note, unless you get excited about lubing up, pooping, and peeing on the side of the road; in which case you are probably looking for a different website with a .xxx at the end of it.  We ate, we ran, we lubed, and we drank.  Most often we kept a good attitude and still managed some good conversation and even some belly laughs.  Other times, it was deathly silent as we were all somewhat trapped in our own thoughts (or pain caves).  Onward.

Meanwhile, Boxy and Shay were playing a three mile game of leapfrog that consisted of driving out, looking for a place to park, setting up chairs,  and prepping an all-you-can eat buffet for the ever famished Fred Flintstone (me) and Shay rubbing Candi’s aching  -but still pretty- feet.  This is truly selfless work.  Up all day and night to help us out.  It really does amaze me that these guys would do this for us, almost perfect strangers before this race, for no other reason than helping us achieve our goals.  This brings me to Dave Box.  Boxy is a guy that came out of nowhere to run the FlatRock 101k as his first, YES FIRST, ultra.  But wait, there’s more… He had never run longer than 13 miles before that.  But wait, there’s more….  He gets 3rd overall!  Wow.  Two weeks later he rips off a most impressive finish at the Flint Hills 40 miler – despite blowing up and overheating in the final half marathon.  Boxy has raw talent, tons of heart, and an iron will.  He told me that his body was DONE after about half way of the FlatRock 101k, but he did what a good ultrarunner does – he ran the rest with his mind.  Box took this same drive, energy, and mental toughness and put it to use in his role as Crew Chief.  Need I say more? Not only did Dave expertly execute his crew duties, but he supplied half of the gear we used including a pop up tent, 7 gallon gatorade jug, and a propane grill and tank.  You got it.  Hot food on the road. BAM.  Box cooked us bacon at 3 in the morning.  Dave Box is a crewing GOD.  Not to mention he pulled his toy hauler, complete with generator and air conditioner, three hours to the lake – just because you never know what we might need.  Enough on Boxy, don’t need his ego getting as big as mine, that would be bad for everyone involved, but you get my point.  Back to the race.

So miles 70-100 were more of the same.  We didn’t feel much better, but we didn’t feel much worse.  We just kept ticking off the miles three at a time.  About 5 miles from the finish we run up on Boxy sitting cross legged on the trailer cooking up some more hot bacon for us.  Shay is still hollering for us and cheering us in EVERY single time we get to the van.  Johnny and Dave were rock solid pacers who never complained about their own aches and pains although they had been out there for 12 hours or more.  We did this until our final stop about a mile and a half  from the finish line (we wanted to finish strong). Here, we sat in our chairs and shared a beer to celebrate our victory in private.  It was amazing.

For the final time in the race, we got up, shook off the instant soreness and began hammering out the last bit to the finish.  Candi and I crossed the finish together in 27:16:39 well below the realistic 28 hour goal we set for ourselves.  More importantly we were not in that bad of shape considering the brutal heat and wind of the day.  Candi had a single tiny blister and I had three and a gray toenail.  No major aches and pains at all.  Just tired bodies carrying around huge smiles.  We relaxed around the finish talking to our pals.  A HUGE thanks to Epic Ultras for putting on a top notch event with the level of challenge we were looking for.  Eric Steele, Warren Bushey, Polly Choate, Frank Arellano, David Bushey, Justin Saylor and all of the Epic Ultras Brigade make these events live up to the considerable hype that they generate.  Also a huge thank you to the awesome support we got on the course from the roving aid teams – Justin and Joell Chockley, Mark Berry, Daron and Zander Pratt.  Also special thanks to Joell Chockley for doing such a wonderful job capturing the day in pictures.  All of your efforts are VERY much appreciated!

All of the 100’s that I have run are special to me for different reasons.  Pumpkin Holler was redemption and I ran fast.  Prairie Spirit I came back from the brink of failure.  Honey Badger will always be special to me because I crossed the finish of a VERY difficult ultra with the woman I love, and WE were able to do so because of the perfect execution of a well organized plan by an ULTRA TEAM whose skill, motivation, tenacity, and chemistry will never be surpassed.

Until Next Time…. BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

PS – Send me a friend request on Facebook.  I love keeping track of the training, races, and other adventures that my ULTRA-FRIENDS (both current and future) share!

Honey Badger Race Preview 2014

zachAt some miserably low and painful point of almost every longer ultra – especially a 100 miler – I find myself severely questioning my life choices.  Specifically, the choice to subject myself to the grueling punishment required to run long distances, in less than favorable weather, and on difficult terrain – for a belt buckle that I will never actually wear.  For the first time in my ultrarunning “career”, I am internally examining my strange compulsion before the race has beaten me to a pulp.  Way before.  Like 6 weeks before.  The Honey Badger 100 will begin at 6am on July 12th2014, and I will be at the starting line.

For those of you who don’t know, Honey Badger is not a trail run.  This race will take place on paved county roads west of Wichita Kansas near Cheney Reservoir and cover a good chunk of Kingman County.  The last 5 years on this weekend in July have seen daytime high temps in this area of 103, 92, 101, 98, and 101.  Of course it will be hot in Kansas in July, but it will also be windy.  As a matter of fact, one of the largest wind farms in the state is in the process of being built very near the race venue.  A wind farm converts wind energy into electricity using turbines – this seems to me like a good indication of how windy it will be.  Likely 25-30 mph sustained winds with gusts strong enough to blow over a baby elephant.  Also, it is not quite as flat as you would expect.  According to Map My Run, there will be enough elevation change to make things interesting.   The point of this course preview; it’s gonna suck.  Hard.

So by now you are probably asking yourself, “So why in seven bloody hells are you running this?”  Well, because it IS hard.  Duh.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  Well, that and because Honey Badgers are pretty freaking badass and I want a buckle with one on it.  Also, there’s a little race called The Badwater Ultramarathon – maybe you have heard of it?  “The World’s Hardest Footrace”, it spans 135 miles across Death Valley from the Badwater Basin to Mt. Whitney’s Portal – in July.  Yes, I know the course has changed… don’t miss my point.  My point is that after reading what Marshall Ulrich, Dean Karnazes, Scott Jurek, and RD Eric Steele have written about their experiences at Badwater, I want to do it someday.  Additionally, it is hard as hell to get into, and costs a shitload of money, so you better make sure you got a big dose of “what it takes” before you head to Death Valley.  This brings me to Honey Badger.  It occurred to me sometime last summer that before I travel all the way to California to go swim in some bad water, I will schedule a death match with a Honey Badger in my own back yard!

I have been training pretty well in 2014 and have raced in the Winter Rock 25K, Prairie Spirit 100 Mile, Free State 40 Mile, FlatRock 101K, and 3Daysto100K (just the 50K).  My mileage base is solid, now I just need to get acclimated to the heat which has been difficult since we have had a very mild spring so far. I will also have the advantage of having a super badass crew lined up – and my ultra sweet badass running girlfriend Candi who will also be racing.  We plan on crossing the finish line together just like we did at FlatRock 101k.  Since historically I throw all my super detailed plans out the window I am keeping this one simple.  The plan is to run until the sun gets high and temps get around 90, then hunker down and survive until the sun goes down.  Hopefully our hydration and fueling will be going well and we can tick off some serious mileage before the sun comes up.  That’s it. Oh, and finish under the 36 hour time limit.

So there is still time… if you think you have what it takes, hell, why not sign up???  If you are even ENTERTAINING the idea of Badwater in the future, it seems like a no-brainer.  If that’s not enough, keep in mind it is an Epic Ultras event – So you KNOW it will inevitably BE EPIC!

Zach Adams

Mind Games

zachWhen you are in the total ass-kicking miles of an ultra, what mental tactics do you use to keep moving?  How do you will yourself through the dark times?  What keeps you from convincing yourself that it is not worth all the pain?  If physical training is the key to running a successful ultra, then mental toughness is the hand that guides the key into the lock and turns it.  If you lack the required strength of mind, there will eventually come a time when bodily endurance and your Greek god physique is not enough to allow you to escape the darkness and emerge into the light of the finish line – where you can bask in your glorious achievement.

What do you do to pass the hard miles?  Of course music or audio books are a popular alternative seen at basically every race 5K and up. Here are a few suggestions taken from my own personal arsenal – the key is finding what works for you.  As an ultrarunner, experienced or aspiring, you should have plenty of opportunities to put it to the test.

Repeat a mantra.  I have had times where I was repeating a chant such as, “Next step. Next Step…” for what seems like forever to keep myself moving.  Once, after almost barfing my guts up on an aid station worker, I gobbled a few Tums and kept telling myself, “I WILL feel better” until I actually did.  I believe this is basically hypnotizing yourself and moving your focus off the pain until the pain subsides – or you finish (which sometimes does come first).

Fantasize!  Use the power of your mind and take yourself somewhere else.  If the “now” freaking sucks, get the hell out!  Fantasize about something so interesting and engaging that it becomes more real than the giant blister on the ball of your foot that just ruptured.  Use your imagination and paint a mental picture of your perfect vacation, winning the lottery, or maybe being stranded in Antarctica.  Think about every detail and then details about details.  It doesn’t matter what you think about… just think about something.  This will pass the time, and once again divert your focus away from your current struggles.

Make a new friend.  Talk to the other runners.  Chances are that unless you are a world-class elite speedster, you will be moving at speeds that will easily allow you the ability to continue speaking.  Use this humanly ability to your advantage.  Ask other runners questions, tell stories, shoot the shit…  This might not work in some ultras (I have been solo for HOURS before), but if and when the opportunity is there – use it.  It is a great way to pass the time and get past a rough point in a race.  I have made some great friends in my time running ultras, and most of them I met WHILE on the trail.

Focus on smaller, more manageable distances.  When the thought of another 20 miles just seems too much, break your run into chunks.  Focus on running to the next aid station, mile section, or electric pole- hell, even just the next step.  These smaller incremental victories will add up and eventually you will be crossing the finish.

Finally, one thing I do when I really struggle is to completely disassociate my mind with my body.  Having a techie background, I think of it as putting my brain in “standby mode”.  I focus on thinking of nothing.  My complete attention goes to listening to my own breathing, my vision on a blurred fixed point about 4 meters in front of me, reducing my body to a biological machine processing oxygen and sending blood to where it is most needed.  There have been times when hours have passed and I realized I had literally thought of nothing.  On a technical course I may try to get myself so hyper focused on my next footfall that it becomes the only reality – figuring out where my next foot should land, noting else.

The key is never letting negative thoughts invade your mind.  If they do, a runner needs ways to immediately cast them out.  You can literally talk yourself into DNF’ing a race that your body was fully capable of completing.  Excuses at the time that seem perfectly reasonable will make you want to punch yourself in the face for quitting the following week.  Don’t let all the time you spend training your body go to waste because you haven’t conditioned your mind.

Until next time…

BE EPIC!

Zach

2013 Prairie Spirit 100: It Was Indeed EPIC – Part III – “Yetis in the Mist” or “Hand me my Lightsaber…”

DSC_9349_s_jpgPrairie Spirit 100 Part I

Prairie Spirit 100 Part II 

Previously, on “Prairie Spirit 100″…  Our unlikely hero has arrived in Ottawa in an effort to reach his goal of completing a 100 mile trail run.  A fun filled evening of dinner and camaraderie with other ultrarunners is ended with a restless night of sleep.  The morning greets our hero with overcast skies, cold temps, and the possibility of catastrophic weather conditions later in the day.  Undeterred, our hero gears up and sets out.  Having reached the Iola turnaround with his fearless companion Adam in less than 11 hours,  Zach connects with pacer Lisa and dives headlong into a burgeoning blizzard – determined not to let his solid 50+ mile effort be in vain.  Will the weather stop our determined friend and his companions?  Will they finish the race in spite of the screaming winds and the falling snow?  Will they be buried under ice waiting centuries to be thawed and reanimated?  Stay tuned to “Prairie Spirit 100, Part III – Yetis in the Mist” to find out!! 

So there I was, no bullshit… (every great story should begin with those words) getting ready to  leave the Iola aid station restocked and ready to rock.  Feeling good.  Joking, laughing, taking some pictures, and just having an overall great time.  I knew the weather was going downhill and that I had 51 or so miles to go, but I still had not for a single second entertained the idea that I might not be able to finish.  At almost exactly 5:00 p.m. I stepped out from behind the Iola shelter and started a jog directly into the whipping north wind.  I turned to Lisa and said, “HOLY F*&^#^g SHIT… IT’S GONNA BE A LONG NIGHT!”  Having that wind at your back was one thing; looking forward to it blasting you in the damn face for the next 16 or more hours is something totally different.  But we did what we do… we set our jaws and starting putting our left foot in front of our right foot.ps100lisa

I don’t know that many ways to keep describing the blowing wind and snow.  I was cold, wet, windy and snowy.  There were some places along the trail that offered some decent protection from the wind, and that became the goal.  Instead of running to the next aid station, we decided we would run to the next wind break.  Lisa talked to me while I just kept concentrating on keeping the fuel schedule right and kept moving as quickly as I could.  A few hours passed and we made it to Colony in pretty decent time, probably between 3-4 hours before the cutoff.  I was starting to get chilled from the wind and moisture but not bad as long as I was moving pretty good.  Coming into Colony, my goal was to get in and out ASAP so I didn’t get cold.  Adam had gotten out ahead of me and was already at Colony when I got there, heading to sit in the car with his wife and warm up some.  He hadn’t packed nearly as many drop bags as I had or as much cold weather gear either.  At Colony I busted open 4-5 hand warmers and shoved them in the fronts and backs of my gloves and in my balaclava on my face. I also grabbed another pair of bigger glove shells to wear and a big fleece hood with a drawstring around the face.  It was dark by now and I had a light clipped to my hat with the hood over the top, drawstring cinched tight.  I must have looked like Kenny from Southpark with a beam of light shooting from my head.  It was quite comical I am sure.  Lisa and I left Colony before Adam and wouldn’t see him again.  61 miles done.  Next stop Welda.

Not much to say about the trip from Colony to Welda – except that about a mile out of Colony I lost my water bottle from its waist holster.  Now I am taking Hammer Gels and Endurolytes every 30 minutes for the next 2-3 hours without water.  If you don’t already know this – be aware- cold gels are hard as hell to swallow with water.  Shit.  Now I am starting to feel like I am royally screwed.  I begin to get colder in my core, despite the fact that my hands and feet are still fairly comfortable.  Lisa reassures me that we will find a new bottle at Welda, which reminds me that Travis will be there and I convince myself somebody will hook me up.  We make it to Welda and Ben and the Trail Nerds contingent once again hook me up with that awesome broth.  I end up just grabbing a half full Sam’s Club water bottle off the table that they said had been there for a while, filled it up and headed out.  I did not want to linger, I could feel the cold really starting to set in.  I grabbed some food, ate a gel, put on another layer of jackets (I think) and we took off again.  Almost conciously feeling my body temperature dropping, I said, “C’mon, we gotta go.”  to Lisa.  So, after a less than 5 minute stop, we went.  Sixty-nine miles down.  Garnett, here we come.

The next couple miles were very hard for me.  I was starting to shake really badly right out of the aid station and had to start fighting the urge to go back and call it a day.  The weather was getting worse by the second.  Stronger winds, colder temps, heavier snow, and less tree cover all combined with my dropping core temperature were giving me serious doubts.  These doubts served to anger me, and I just kept telling myself, “Move and get warm or stop and freeze.”  Over and over I kept telling myself this.  Eventually I did get a bit warmer and maybe 6 miles from Garnett, I was moving pretty good again.  It was so hard to even see the trail at this point, much less find footprints to follow. Judging speed and distance was downright impossible.  The snow was getting deeper and was starting to take its toll on my feet.  Every step was just getting tougher and shuffling wasn’t much of an option with how much deeper it got.  Once again I slowed to the point that I quickly started to get really cold. The best I could manage was a swift walk.  This was not enough to keep my temperature up, and unfortunately, about an hour away from Garnett I was shivering uncontrollably.  My thoughts started to get cloudy and I was getting disoriented. Once I thought I had gotten turned around because Lisa got a bit ahead of me and I contemplated turning around.  Then I realized the footsteps I were going to follow were mine.  Honestly, it was getting pretty scary.  Getting close to Garnett, I could see the glow of a town in the distance and this gave me some renewed hope.  The Garnett train station was warm.   All I had to do was put on some warm, dry clothes, warm up for a while, and then I could go on.  At this moment, I realized I wasn’t shivering anymore and that my lips felt “asleep”  – like your foot when you sit cross-legged too long.  Yeah, this is not good.  Exclusively walking at this point, it took about 30 more minutes to get to the train station.  We got there really close to 12:30 am.  77.5 miles done.  Less than a marathon to go.

Courtesy Fun Memories Photography

The cutoff for Garnett was now 4 a.m. so I feel like I have plenty of time to eat and get warm before going back.  I sit down and grab some ham sandwiches and start eating.  I really had a hunger for real food.  While I was eating, something strange happened.  As I warmed up I began to violently shiver.  I mean VIOLENTLY.  It was like the warmer I got, the colder I felt.  This was the beginning of the end for me.  People were dropping like flies at Garnett.  It is getting worse and worse by the second.  Then, without warning, the power goes out.  Of course there is no problem with light, as all the runners have headlamps, but it is dark.  The ranger in charge of the trail shows up and offers to get a radiant propane heater.  I overhear talk that roads are being closed and people are getting stuck.  Power is out all over town.  I see RD Eric Steele talking to him and although I didn’t hear the words, I feel like they are discussing when to pull the plug.  After an hour I am colder than when we were outside, and upon trying to stand up to go to the bathroom, I realize my legs are locked up.  After shuffling to the bathroom I go outside and the snow is blowing from EVERYWHERE.  I think to myself, “Well.  I’m done.”

That was it.  I told Lisa I was done, and she almost looked relieved that she didn’t have to go back out.  She called her sister who would come from Ottawa to get us…. assuming she could.  We eventually made it back to the hotel and I think I found a bed somewhere around 4:30 a.m.  I was upset but would find out that even if I had gone on after Garnett that the race was officially stopped around 5 a.m., and that I would have likely pulled at Richmond.  Adam gave it up a mile out of Welda, calling his wife and declaring that enough was enough.  All said and done, there were 5 official finishers in the 100 mile race.  FIVE.  Congrats to those five insane bastards.  I know there are others who would have finished had the race not been stopped, so cheers to them as well!

The logistical concerns of 100 & 50 mile races with nearly 150 combined participants are immense under even the greatest of weather conditions.  Race Director, Eric Steele, was facing weather conditions which could only be described as horrendous.  As a race director he was forced to walk the edge of a razor and ultimately make the decision at which point it was no longer safe enough to let his 100 mile runners continue.  Caught in the middle of an all out shootout between loved ones SCREAMING to shut it down and ultrarunners hell bent on finishing AT ALL COSTS, Eric ultimately had to make the decision.  As a hardcore ultarunner himself, he knows what it means to give it everything you have to achieve your goals, and well understood the heartbreak it would cause to stop a runner that physically could continue.  I did not envy his situation in the slightest.  Ultimately, it came down to a question of  life and death, so when the Park Rangers informed him Sunday morning, shortly after 5 am, that they could no longer access the trail, he knew it was done and had to pull the plug per his agreement with them.  If a rescue was needed and could not be made, a runner could die.   I appreciate that Eric kept the 100 mile race going as long as was possible given the circumstances, and I truly feel that if there was any possibly way to even somewhat safely let the runners keep going he would have.  I applaud his efforts and those of his Epic Ultra Brigade.  And if you are one of those who was screaming at him, smacking his car windows, or possibly threatening him over it – for EITHER stopping or not stopping the race – then I say, why don’t you pull your head out of your ass, quit acting like a thumbdick, and shit and fall back into it…just my two cents.

What an adventure!   It was only in the following few days that I was really able to pull the entire event into perspective.  Amazing is the only way to describe it.  Everyone involved contributed so much to make this event what it was… Epic.  That is the only word I have to describe this race.  EPIC!

Final thought.  I would have finished this race.  I know under any other weather, that this is true.  You can guarantee that I will be back for redemption.  Until then, I will content myself with a ‘little’ 100K down at the Flatrock 101K next weekend.  Join me, who knows, maybe it will be even more EPIC!!!  If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments I would love to hear them.

Be Epic!

Zach Adams

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Live Ferociously

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On the Boston Marathon bombing…

Ironically, while I was out doing what I love, helping prepare the Elk River Trail for the FlatRock 101K, a group of runners in Boston was cowardly attacked – while doing what they loved.  I offer my most sincere condolences to all of those impacted by this violence.  My heart mourns everyone’s losses while my spirit rages and demands justice.  While I greatly sympathize with how these people were so unfairly cheated of life, I can only hope what everyone will remember the most is how they LIVED.  These people were living their lives to the fullest up the the very last second.  Let this loss be a reminder to everyone that the last words you spoke to a loved one may be the last.  Whether it is finishing a 100 mile trail run or mending a broken relationship with a family member, follow their example and get out there and LIVE.  “Live ferociously!”  Run down YOUR dreams.  I promise you this will honor those killed and wounded at Boston more than changing your profile picture, sharing someone’s status, or wearing a black shoelace.   Words can’t begin to fully convey what I am feeling.

Zach Adams

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Gut Check

DSC_9349_s_jpgGut check.  These are the two simple words I sometimes repeat over and over to myself when I am struggling during a run.  When I am tired, sore,  miserable, and would rather quit than continue,  I set my eyes to the next landmark…hill, pole, post, bridge, mile marker, or whatever else I can see (or hallucinate  and I tell myself that’s all I need to worry about.  Gut check.  Gut Check.  GUT CHECK!  GUT CHECK!! If I take a walk break and start to think that I can’t run anymore, I internally hiss the words.  Gut check.  Then I take a few faster steps and start to jog again.  It is my own special way to kick my ass back into gear or just keep on chugging.

Call it whatever you want.  Call it perseverance, persistence, mental toughness, intestinal fortitude, inner badassery, epicness, or just plain stubbornness.  The will to keep going when most people would just lay down and die.  Ultrarunners have a higher level of this attribute than most normal people, whether it is a natural personality trait or an acquired skill.  This state of mind does ebb and flow however; sometimes an ultrarunner will need to employ some techniques to help them remember their inner tough girl or guy.  Here are a few techniques I have used to help get me across the finish.

1.  Recite Your Mantra – The recitation of a mantra can really help get you though some tough times.  Like I said, I like to repeat, “Gut Check” over and over – sometimes out loud – when I am struggling.  I have also been known to repeat “The only distance that matters is the distance I cover in the next step.”  My military memories usually bring out,  “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, KILL”.  A mantra gives you a cadence and can almost put you in a trance, taking you away from the immediate pain and discomfort.  Before you know it, the food or gel has kicked in and you start feeling better.

2. Always Talk to Strangers – Yes, I know your mama told you not to.  I am telling you to throw that shit out the window.  For me one of the best ways to pass time on a long ultra is to take the time to talk to other ultrarunners.  Most do so more than willingly – even if they may be too shy to initiate the conversation.  We all know how shy ultrarunners can be…yes that’s sarcasm.  The truth is, most of them are just WAITING to tell you about other runs they have done, PRs, or their entire life story.  If someone does not feel like talking, chances are they will either tell you, not respond, or speed away.  I have made some awesome friendships that started just by chatting on the trail.  Miles will melt behind you.

3.  Visualize – If there is no one around to talk to, your mantra has gone stale, you can’t stand to listen to one more Pantera jam, and you are struggling with some pain I have the answer.  I know this sounds weird, but it works for me more often than not.  I visualize my body as some sort of biological factory and dispatch commandos, medics, and engineers to take care of the pain and repair the injury that which is inflicting it.  Yes this is pretend…it is a scenario in my imagination.  I once ‘saw’ the pain as black ooze dripping off the tattered machinery which was working my knee joint as it was being dismantled by slug-looking creatures.  The elite commandos I deployed killed the baddies while the engineers cleaned and repaired the machines.  By the time I thought the scenario through in my mind, my knee felt better.  Don’t call me nuts until you try it.  What else do you have to do during your umpteenth consecutive hour of running?

All ultras require some serious gut-checking.  Looking at the weather forecast for Praire Spirit 100  it is clear that this “beginner level” trail may require even a little more perseverance than you had in mind.  Gut check time.

What techniques do you do to occupy your mind and keep your body moving during an ultra?  I would love to hear them.

See you all at Prairie Spirit!  As always, BE EPIC.

Zach